Utility Week

Utility Week 6th December

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Page 26 of 31

Customers This week Npower boss writes to customers to apologise for bad service caused by billing system problems Npower apologises for poor customer service The boss of Npower has written to all its domestic customers to apologise for its poor customer service caused by problems with its new billing system. Paul Massara, chief executive at Npower, has written the letter after complaints rose sharply last year, with Npower receiving five Massara: 'we've let many customers down' times as many complaints as its least complained about major rival. Ofgem intervened after it became "increasingly concerned" with the "serious deterioration" in the level of customer service. Ofgem senior partner Sarah Harrison said: "The huge growth in complaints about Npower is wholly unacceptable and is an issue that Ofgem takes very seriously and is why we intervened in this case." Ofgem will receive monthly updates and will monitor the progress made in the three areas where the problems arose: setting up customer accounts; direct debit payments; and billing. Massara said: "In recent months, we've let many of our domestic customers down and I wanted to write to each of them personally to say sorry." He added: "Although we've made good progress fixing many of the underlying issues, we still have a long way to go, and our customers deserve to get the best possible service." The company has taken on 800 additional members of staff to help resolve the issues, which is expected to take up to four months. Npower has also planned a major restructure of its customer service activities, which will see 1,460 staff face redundancy and some back-office jobs outsourced to India. MB Energy Smaller suppliers offer fixed tariffs A number of the smaller energy suppliers have launched new fixed-price energy tariffs. The Co-operative Energy has launched two fixed-price deals, until the end of March in 2015 and 2016. The company's March 2015 deal will cost the average household £1,168 a year, which is currently the cheapest fixedprice deal on the market. Ramsay Dunning, group general manager at Co-operative Energy, said there has been a "surge" in customers switching to fixed energy deals, and this led to the company adding one- and two-year fixed deals to run alongside its three-year fixed tariff. Good Energy has announced a price freeze until 31 March 2014. The company said it has taken this decision because the majority of its external costs "are not rising until 1 April 2014". Ecotricity has extended its fixed-price tariff from the end of the year until "at least" the end of March 2014. Founder Vince Dale warned: "If we continue the way we are now, we're going to see energy bills increase significantly over the next decade – we could even see them double." Dale added that renewable energy provides a "shield" to customers from price hikes "that come with a reliance on the f ossil fuel market". Tom Lyon, energy expert at Uswitch.com, hailed the new fixed-tariff deals as "fantastic news" and a "welcome indication of what real competition could achieve". Efficiency Businesses miss out on £1.6bn savings Businesses across the UK are collectively missing out on savings of £1.6 billion by failing to invest in energy efficiency measures, according to a report by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum and Carbon Connect. The report said businesses are missing out on "significant benefits, such as reduced energy bills, increased competitiveness, and improved worker productivity, because they are "unable" to undertake the energy efficiency improvements due to "significant barriers". These barriers include a lack of available upfront capital to invest in energy efficiency measures, and a lack of knowledge and understanding of the schemes and mechanisms available to help them improve their energy efficiency. One solution put forward in the report is for the UK Green Investment Bank to fund a nondomestic subsidiary of the Green Deal Finance Company, under guarantee from the Treasury, to offer low-interest loans to small and medium-sized businesses. I am the customer Will Davies The big six energy suppliers (EDF, Eon UK, British Gas, SSE, Npower and Scottish Power) have increased prices by 36 per cent since October 2010, during a time that average wage rises have been pegged back at only 4.4 per cent. They have made absolutely no effort to pursue savings through efficiency and pass those savings on to consumers in their bills. British Gas hiked its prices by a further 10.4 per cent in November and Npower is "Ofgem needs to step up and create competition" adding 9.4 per cent in December. Aspect.co.uk undertakes thousands of refurbishments every year, which involve improving the energy efficiency of buildings. As such, we are aware that improving Britain's ageing building stock is important work, but raising the cash to finance this work through tariffs added by the big six impacts directly on the poorest in our society. The energy suppliers constantly cite government green taxes as the cause of their price rises but the big six have still managed to significantly increase the amount of profit they collect from customers. I would like to see the government raising money from other "green taxes" to pay for home insulation rather than an across-the-board fuel tax that has an impact mostly on the least well off. Ofgem needs to step up to the plate and create competition in the energy market by doing its job and enforcing the appropriate regulations. Will Davies, co-founder and managing director of www.aspect.co.uk UTILITY WEEK | 6th - 12th December 2013 | 27

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